Bring me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman

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“Sam Peckinpah would likely approve – as long as he has a console in the afterlife.”

machineWhen not spinning platters as the DJ at a tango club in Chile, Santiago Fernández (Oviedo) likes nothing better than to kill, rob and steal – at least, from the comfort of his couch, as he plays a game just dissimilar enough to Grand Theft Auto to avoid a lawsuit. There is, of course, a huge difference between video-game malfeasance and the real thing, as he discovers after being unfortunate enough to overhear a conversation of local crime boss Che Longana (Alis), in which he makes the titular request, said skull belonging to his ex-girlfriend (Urrejola), who is also an assassin of no mean talent. Caught eavesdropping, Santiago’s escapes execution by promising to deliver her to Longana – a task for which he is woefully unprepared, despite the countless hours of console practice for a life of crime.

While containing nods to the grindhouse era, the style is very much more GTA, with villains being introduced by a still, on which is overlaid their value, and Santiago’s car, as he drives around town, being filmed from behind and slightly above, the standard angle for the genre. Progress is even broken down into a number of missions, whose success or failure is documented by a large on-screen graphic. Yes, it’s undeniably gimmicky; however, at a brisk 73 minutes, including credits, it’s a gimmick which just about manages to avoid overstaying its welcome. My main problem is instead a strong preference for the Machine Gun Woman – she’s never named anything else – over Santiago, because she is exactly the sort of creation, in attitude as much as dress-sense, who would be perfectly at home in a video-game. Brutal and manipulative, she’s simply more interesting than the snivelling hero, who sole redeeming feature appears to be that he loves his Mom.

By the end of the film, he’s the one charging in, with all guns blazing to rescue her – albeit, after he has forgotten to mention a tiny detail on their initial assault against the Boss Level. Still, considering the film’s events unfold in barely a day, it’s a remarkable transformation, even by video-game standards; not least in his ability to hit the broad side of a barn, something notable by its absence early on. That said, it’s still an entertaining and briskly-told tale: Espinoza is very much aware that the “cut scenes” are likely to be of lesser interest to his audience, and whizzes through them to get to the next spurt of action. The results are clearly not intended to be taken too seriously, and shouldn’t tax the attention span of even the most ardent gamer.

Dir: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza
Star: Matías Oviedo, Fernanda Urrejola, Jorge Alis, Francisca Castillo

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